World Masterpiece Theater is a very long-running series in Japan, where famous stories from around the world are adapted into television anime series. Even today new series are running under the World Masterpiece Theater banner, and in practically every case it’s produced a series loved by many and considered to be of the finest quality in Japanese animation. One particularly exceptional series comes to us from 1979: Anne of Green Gables. Adapted from the novel of the same title by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, or “Akage no Anne” as it’s called in Japan, is the story of a young orphan named Anne Shirley and the positive impact she makes upon the life of a pair of elderly siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, as well as the little Canadian town of Avonlea in which they live.
Now, I’ve never read any of the novels and never really planned to, but two factors piqued my interest enough to watch the anime. First was the fact that it is so well-regarded in Japan, and second was that it bears one of the more remarkable pedigrees in anime history. The director and first layout artist for Anne are two names you might recognize: Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao. They are the two men who would a few years later found Studio Ghibli, perhaps the most respected and highly acclaimed Japanese animation studio of all time. Also on board were Kondou Yoshifumi on character designs and Sakurai Michiyo, who would take over from Miyazaki on layout. The two would go on to do key animation for various Ghibli titles such as Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso (Yoshifumi), Castle in the Sky Laputa (Sakurai), and even direct for Ghibli (Yoshifumi on Whisper of the Heart). Both also did key animation for Grave of the Fireflies. Simply put, this show did not suffer from a lack of talent.
While this was not the first time the duo of Takahata and Miyazaki had worked together, nor was it the first time they had done any World Masterpiece titles, Anne of Green Gables is one of the best examples of what they were able to accomplish. Anne of Green Gables takes full advantage of its fairly episodic format by making each and every episode a joy to watch either on its own or in large chunks of multiple episodes. It makes the show approachable at any stage, and the show becomes a pleasant yet compelling experience, especially when you factor in Anne Shirley herself. Anne, who introduces herself as “Anne with an E but I’d rather be called Cordelia,” is a shining example of a main character who just carries a story. All of the other characters are good too, mind you, from Anne’s best friend Diana to the rascally Gilbert Blythe, but her name’s in the title for a reason.
Anne’s most endearing trait is probably her tendency to get caught up in her own imagination. When combined with her love of storytelling, it results in seemingly endless declarations of love and hate, with flares of drama or comedy or passion depending on how she’s feeling and where her sentence construction is taking her. Anne is never satisfied with a simple story, and will turn even simple lies into elaborate tales just to fulfill her sense of the dramatic. Give her one episode and you’ll be likely be drawn into her world.
Anne of Green Gables is not only one of the most beloved novels of all time but also one of the most beloved anime of all time. Just this very year, the prequel novel Before Green Gables was adapted into a currently-running TV series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original anime. 30 years is a long time, but Anne of Green Gables has aged very gracefully. Kannagi director Yamamoto Yutaka said at one of his Otakon 2009 panels that he considers Anne to be the best example of how to do a long television anime series, and while I cannot say it is the best, it certainly sets a good precedent. In fact, my only real regret with this series is that we are no longer able to see Miyazaki and Takahata use their talents on television series, as they’ve moved on to feature films and almost nothing else.
Anne of Green Gables has a level of quality and accessibility that few anime can live up to, and just as the original novel still carries relevance today, so too does Akage no Anne.